The values deficit
WASHINGTON (Creators Syndicate) -- In early October, Professor Ralph Whitehead of the University of Massachusetts, a good Democrat and an even better thinker, lamented what he saw as the runaway secularization of the 2004 Democratic Party.
"Too many in my party tragically, and foolishly, confuse the cherished American doctrine of separation and church and state with the politically suicidal notion of separation of church and society," he said.
Whitehead is right. How many of today's liberals recall that the greatest U.S. political crusade of the 20th century -- to legally end more than a century of officially sanctioned segregation of the races -- was led by the Southern Christian Leadership Counsel?
Do we need to be reminded that the movement's courageous leaders who put their own lives at risk included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Andrew Young and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth?
In the 19th century, the crusade to abolish human slavery was led by Protestant men of the cloth. Just a generation ago, in the front ranks of the movement to stop the U.S. war in Vietnam -- so much endorsed and admired by liberals -- were ministers, rabbis, priests, nuns and prominent religious lay men and women.
A word to my fellow liberals: We cannot honor and praise the involvement of men and women of faith in our nation's political life only when that involvement is in support of a political objective we embrace.
A handful of U.S. Catholic bishops publicly opposed John Kerry, a practicing Catholic, because of the Democratic nominee's pro-choice Senate votes backing abortion rights.
A few bishops officially argued that Catholics who supported or voted for any pro-choice candidate would be morally ineligible to receive communion. In their White House runs, Democrats Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore had all carried the Catholic vote. In 2004, George W. Bush won 52 percent of the American Catholic vote.
As a Catholic, I believe the Religious Right -- which includes some in the Catholic hierarchy -- is a lot more Right than it is religious. Too often missing from its priorities is any concern for "the least of these."
The American Catholic agenda is much wider than its principled opposition to abortion (Pope John Paul II has condemned the death penalty and the U.S. war against Iraq.).
It includes the unemployed worker, the undocumented immigrant, the uninsured family, the mother in prison and the father on death row, as well as the unborn child. The faithful Catholic fights for dignity and dollars for the people who clean our offices, who pick our vegetables, who park our cars, and who change our beds in the hotels and hospitals where we rest.
Democrats and liberals do trumpet one value -- their own vaunted tolerance. Somehow that tolerance is never extended to any voter who opposes abortion.
Nowhere was the Democrats' intolerance more obvious than in the party leadership's refusal to allow the nation's most pro-worker governor, the only state chief executive who during the last serious recession refused to cut welfare payments to the neediest in his state, the late Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, from even speaking to the party's New York convention. Why? Because Bob Casey was pro-life. So much for tolerance.
If pro-choice Democrats were truly compassionate and even semi-smart, they would do something positive -- which conservatives and Republicans have failed to do -- to reduce the nation's abortion rate, already the highest among all industrialized nations.
If a young woman, facing an unplanned pregnancy, lived in an America that paid a living wage, had realistic welfare-to-work rules, available child care and early childhood intervention programs, then all available evidence tells us that that woman would be more likely to carry her baby to birth.
For the pro-life side to ignore the crucial importance of a genuine public support system in reducing the number of abortions is to insist irrationally that life begins at conception and ends at birth.
Finally, consider this: American Catholic bishops have declared that politicians who support abortion rights were "cooperating in evil" and "should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions" by Catholic institutions.
This fall, a new wing on a major Catholic hospital in New York, operated by the Diocese of Brooklyn, was named for the city's former mayor, Rudolph Giuliani, a Catholic who is pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gay marriage.
No American bishop has yet publicly censured either the diocese or Giuliani. It may be simply a coincidence, but it was not overlooked by Democrats that the uncriticized Giuliani, unlike John Kerry, is a Republican.